M. Shahid Alam article

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 28 09:13:37 MDT 2003

I want to call comrades' attention to an article by M. Shahid Alam (our 
own M. Junaid Alam's father) that appears on the Counterpunch website: 

It is titled "A Short History: The Global Economy Since 1800" and can be 
described as an unabashed defense of the kind of core-periphery analysis 
pioneered by Sweezy and Baran, and that came under attack by Robert 
Brenner and others in the 1970s. Although it does not refer to the 
Brenner thesis, the article defends a perspective on the origins of 
capitalism that is usually associated with Paul Sweezy:

"Although Marx did not worry too much about the origins of capitalism-he 
saw its precursors in the burghers of medieval towns, the growing 
commerce stimulated by the discoveries, and the system of Atlantic 
trade-he was reasonably certain that the system he was describing was 
fully developed or nearly so."

In contrast, Brenner (and Ellen Wood et al) think that it originated in 
the English countryside when land rent began to replace tribute in kind.

The article contains many valuable insights and empirical data that give 
the lie to the sort of Panglossian version of economic reality presented 
by J. Brad Delong and other apologists for capitalism. He cites Paul 
Bairoch's "Disparities in economic development since the Industrial 
Revolution", a work that I have consulted frequently in the past in 
order to understand unequal development:

"The centralizing tendencies of Core capital acted strongly and quickly. 
By 1913, according to Bairoch (1982: 296, 304), two-thirds of the 
world's manufactures were concentrated in four Core countries: Britain, 
United States, Germany and France. In 1750, their combined share had 
stood at less than a tenth. At the same time, the Core countries reduced 
vast areas of the world-nearly all of Asia, Africa, Central America and 
the Caribbean-to colonies, open-door countries or dependencies, which 
were converted to the production of primary exports. Those parts of the 
Periphery that enjoyed various degrees of political autonomy were 
luckier. By 1950, many of them had developed indigenous capital, skills 
and manufactures.

"The contradiction between the Core and dependent Periphery was on 
display, most transparently, in the widening gap between the living 
standards of the two economic areas. According to Bairoch (1981), 
Britain had roughly the same per capita income as Asia in 1800; but, in 
1950, it had gained a lead of close to six to one. Africa suffered a 
similar decline in its relative position. On an average, the sovereign 
parts of the Periphery did not face a decline in their relative position 
during this period."

I do have one quibble with M. Shahid, however, about the relevance of 
Marx. He writes:

"Marx predicted … proletarian revolution. Led by the communist party, 
the workers would overthrow the capitalists, abolish markets, socialize 
ownership and production, and lay the foundations of a new social formation.

"History did not oblige Karl Marx. There would be no proletarian 
revolutions in the advanced industrial countries, where capitalist 
contradictions were most ripe for the overthrow of capitalism."

Unfortunately, this does not take into account the Thermidor in the USSR 
which resulted in the creation of Communist Parties that shrank from the 
task of socialist revolution, even as they were often carrying out 
excellent work as democratic reformers and militant trade unionists. 
There *were* proletarian revolutions in Europe on an almost continuous 
basis since 1917. Their failure to culminate in the seizure of power 
does not invalidate Karl Marx; it only confirms the Leninist dictum that 
without a revolutionary party, there cannot be revolutions.


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